PAWS club hosts “Woofstock” to support regular pet therapy visits to WTHS

The event, reminiscent of the 1960s festival, was the vision of advisor Karen LaRosa.

PAWS club member River Pinardo, a junior at Washington Township High School, spends some time with therapy pup Jerseyboy at the first-ever Woofstock event at WTHS on April 17. Photo: Krista Cerminaro, The Sun.

By Krista Cerminaro

“Music, food, dogs and cats — what else do you need?”

That’s the bottom line for Washington Township High School PAWS club advisor Karen Larosa, who’s finally made her long-time vision a reality after the first annual “Woofstock” concert attracted students, staff and therapy pets to WTHS last Tuesday.

LaRosa, a social studies teacher at WTHS, has envisioned an event, reminiscent of the 1960s Woodstock music festival, since she first started the PAWS — Promoting Animal Welfare Society — club.

“She thought ‘Woofstock’ was like, the best thing in the whole entire world,” PAWS club director of public relations and student Erica Sultan said. “She’s been trying to get it done since, I think, the first year.”

LaRosa worked alongside Frank Appello, director of the WTHS jazz ensemble, to incorporate live music for a four-legged frenzy where students and staff could interact with the animals, enjoy food, tunes and good company.

WTHS jazz band members, along with director Frank Appello, took the stage at Woofstock on April 17 to perform for students, staff and therapy animals. Photo: Krista Cerminaro, The Sun.

“He and I collaborated and said we’d have the live music from our WTHS jazz band, and we’d bring in FURever As Friends,” LaRosa said. “This has been planned for about five years now — this was the baby, right here.”

FURever As Friends is a volunteer pet therapy group run by Sharon and John Bednar.

“Most of what they do is literacy,” LaRosa explained. “They go to libraries and the small children will read to the dogs. We’ve brought them in for the past several years to work with our special education population, but the purpose of this particular fundraiser that we’re calling ‘Woofstock,’ is because our goal here is to bring FURever As Friends on our campus.”

According to Sultan, FURever As Friends typically makes an appearance at WTHS during midterm season to keep stress levels down. The goal, however, is to bring the therapy pets around more often — and the money raised from “Woofstock” played a significant role in making it happen.

“When I started the club a few years back, I had two goals in mind, other than the obvious,” LaRosa said. “‘Woofstock,’ and to bring FURever As Friends onto our campus in more of a scheduled kind of thing, so hopefully that’s what’s going to happen next school year.”

Putting FURever As Friends under contract, according to LaRosa, would allow the therapy animals to come in twice per month and work with special education students, counselors, students in childcare and overall as needed.

“Whatever’s going on in their [students’] lives, school — the dogs come in, and immediately, they get so excited,” LaRosa said. “There’s such a love of animals.”

Sophomore Joley Raposas spends time with Angel, a Lab-Shepherd-Border Collie mix therapy dog, at Woofstock on April 17. Photo: Krista Cerminaro, The Sun.

In addition to the April 17 fundraiser, Sultan said the PAWS club volunteers at various animal shelters, has worked with the Ahisma Animal Sanctuary and with seniors at local nursing homes.

“We went over to Washington Township Senior Living, and we made dog treats with the residents — we sold them and we donated to the hurricane victims in Texas,” LaRosa added. “One time, we had a pig rescue that came in, because what we found out was that some people are purchasing what they think are ‘teacup’ pigs — which are really just small pigs,” LaRosa said. “When they grow into full-grown pigs, they just let them out on the road. So, there [are] several rescues — we’ve brought them in to make sure that our kids are aware.”

Additionally, the club has collected supplies for K9 units in a “K9 Stockings for Soldiers” program.

“Our National Honor Society does a ‘Stockings for Soldiers,’ but we take care of the K9 soldiers — so we collect supplies for the K9 units, and we have them shipped over to our K9 soldiers overseas.”

LaRosa also noted the club is involved with various nonprofit shelters, organizations and rescues run by WTHS alumni — including Funny Farm Rescue. The club’s ‘Deck the Paws’ event taught special education students to knit fleece paw-print scarves, which were sold to benefit the animal sanctuary in Millville.

“It’s been a love of mine for a long time. I volunteered at the Salem County animal shelter for many, many years, and so I’ve had a love [for] the animals, and really wanted to make sure I was passing that along to our students,” LaRosa said. “It’s just the idea of education, of making [students] aware of what’s going on in the world, how we need to help our four-legged friends — and how much they give to our lives — and it’s important that we recognize that and do what we need to do to help them.”